Mothers and The Internet

A friend of mine from MN posted this on her Facebook.  It’s a conversation between her and her mother.  It’s amazing…

me is my friend
bcscott is her mother

7:05 AM

bcscott: Howed you make that heart
7:08 AM me: it’s this:
and this:
pretty cool.
7:10 AM bcscott: doesn’t work on a non Apple

9 minutes

7:20 AM me: yes it does, i’ve doen it at work
you have to type them together.
but it ONLY works in this chat box, nowhere else.
7:22 AM bcscott: I typed them separately and together and I get a 3. Do you use shift or control? See if you can see the heart and smley face I inserted.
me: you have to type them in this window
i can tell you haven’t because i should be able to see you doing it.
7:23 AM don’t insert them,
type them here.
bcscott: ,3 There you go.
me: you hit the comma. try it again.
< and 3
7:24 AM bcscott: My greater symbol IS the comma.
me: doit again, barb.
< and 3
7:25 AM bcscott: #< There you go. That’s with the shift.
me: mom, you can’t be serious. instead of the 3, you typed # and you did it backwards.
< and 3
7:26 AM bcscott: Carrie, what kind of keyboad do you have? My 3 IS the #. The shift controls all this. ,3
me: yes, but you keyed in a #
you need to type exactly <
and then 3
just do it.
7:27 AM bcscott: I know, maybe you have a numbers pad. I don’t have that on my laptop. Otherwise, this conversation is ridiculous.
me: this conversation is ridiculous.
i am not doing this on a number pad.
you’re going to do this, mom.
type <
and then 3
you’ve been typing ,3 and <#
bcscott: I can’t type < without the shift key. if I use the shift key on the 3 I will get a #
7:28 AM me: then ONLY use the shift key to get the <
and then don’t use the shift key to get the 3
do it, mom.
bcscott: <3 There you go!
me: that was unbelieveable.
absolutely unbelieveable.
7:29 AM bcscott: I had to do shift < and then regular 3. Now where did you get your smiley thing.
me: oh boy.

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What I Would do to Fix AOL

I saw the annoucement last week (and news stories) of the new AOL CEO, Randy Falco, and got to wondering, if I’m in charge of running AOL which is now in the business of monetizing traffic to and other pages, how would i do it? A few thoughts came to mind….

First, i would buy the best, more user-friendly and one of hte most popular social networks around – Facebook. With facebook, you not only get a great social network, but you also get one of the best photo-sharing applications on the internet. Then i would merge it with AIM, change all AIM-pages to be facebook pages, and place the mini-feed on every users home page. That would drive traffic. Granted, it would take a long time to get everything on the same platform (calendar, aim, mail, etc.) but facebook’s interface and features are much, much better than AOL’s. Everyone’s speculating about Yahoo buying facebook, why not AOL? AOL has just as much cash and just enough desire to monetize their traffic. It’s almost as if everyone assumes AOL is dying and isn’t going to invest in their future.

Buy Meebo
AIM is one of the most precious assets AOL has and it is being threatened by Meebo. I would buy it immediately and make all meebo-me widgets become AIM widgets and place them all over the web and inside the recently purchased AOL-facebook pages.

Streaming Music Locker

Subscription streaming. AOL should abandon the WMA format and go for only streaming. In an iPod world, the only way to play is to make your server compatible with iTunes and that means abandoning DRM and/or simply abandoning any local download. A service like + mp3tunes would go a long way.

Go all-flash as DRM instead of Windows Media so mac users can play. Have it all hosted so you can access anywhere and watch anywhere.

Build, Buy or do whatever it takes to do a SERIOUS upgrade to your mail application. Mail is the largest driver of ad inventory and if you’re service is completely ad-based, this should be your #1 priority. It’s been over 2 years since Gmail launched, you would think someone at AOL would have noticed how to please mail users. Where is unlimited storage, where are ajax-features to reduce latency, where? AOL mail is by far the worst webmail application on the internet. It needs to be fixed.

AOL bought 3 voice companies between 2000 and 2003: eVoice, Quack, and another one from Canada (i’m forgetting the name). AOL made serious investment in voicemail, voice recognition and other voice services. From what i can tell, all that has been completely abandoned. I would restart this effort and do more click-to-talk services, similar to Google’s. However, all of AOL’s services are tied into mail and AIM making them more attractive. For instance, it would be easy to do click-to-talk and then save to mp3 which would be put into your music streaming locker.

These are just a few of the things i’d do. What do you all think? I think Randy’s in for a tough job and i’m not bullish on AOL’s chances. I think the most successful internet companies are run by those who understand the technology and can see the trends coming. Google embraces technology and let’s it unlock new opportunities and i don’t see somewhat who’s entire background is in TV and TV ad-sales pushing AOL into new models and opportunities. That’s just my initial reaction. Then again, Terry Semel’s done a good job at Yahoo, so who knows.

Google PC, Continued

A few weeks ago i posted about the liklihood of a Google PC of of their browser-centric focus and the cost of PCs. Well, i have discovered a few more items since then.

  1. 1. Check out this $100 PC. This is just like what i described previously. All flash, all browser. The PC is sponsored by MIT Media Labs and developed by a non-profit who's using them for educational purposes. (link)Blue-front.jpg
    • The specs for the machine are: The machine will be a Linux-based, with a dual-mode display—both a full-color, transmissive DVD mode, and a second display option that is black and white reflective and sunlight-readable at 3× the resolution. The laptop will have a 500MHz processor and 128MB of DRAM, with 500MB of Flash memory; it will not have a hard disk, but it will have four USB ports.
    • The laptops will have wireless broadband that, among other things, allows them to work as a mesh network; each laptop will be able toLaptop-crank.jpg talk to its nearest neighbors, creating an ad hoc, local area network. The laptops will use innovative power (including wind-up) and will be able to do most everything except store huge amounts of data. (specs link here)
  2. I discovered many more Google apps. Let me list them:
    1. *NEW* – Google Notebook.  A notepad that stays in your browser that lets you keep notes and track other web stuff.  Pretty neat.
    2. Google Mail
    3. Google Calendar
    4. Writely
    5. Picassa – sophisticated photo editor
    6. Talk – phone
    7. WiMax

What am i missing? 

Browswer-Only Google Computer

GoogleHP2.jpgToday if you look at on IE, you'll see an ad for users to get Firefox. If you look at Google on Firefox, there's nothing. I think this is super ballsy. They are giving the double birds to Microsoft. Why would they do this? It is my belief that this is because Google will release in the next year a browser based PC for consumers to buy at an incredibly low price (say $100).

Google is building a world where all that is needed is the browser. All their services – Video, Search, Mail, IM, etc. – all work only in the browser, there is no concept of an application to them. This is the exact opposite of of what MS does, which is to create almost exclusively applications – Word, Excel, Outlook, etc..

Think about this:

  • A $100 computer that has no hard-drive, just 500 MB of flash, a keyboard, mouse – and you can pay extra for a monitor if you want one
  • OOBE: Upon bootup, which only takes a second because there's no hard-drive you get a Firefox browser which loads and a suite of applications:
    • Writely for text docs
    • Gmail
    • Google Chat
    • Google Calendar
    • Google Video
    • Google SocialNet (whatever this is – Orkut?)
    • Management of Google's Wimax connector to get internet anywhere

This would change the world. People could get 4 of these for around there house. Anytime you have any question or comment, you boot up a browser. With HD tv sets, you could have a browser available at every TV set. I'm telling you, this would be awesome and it's completely doable and looks to be what's coming. You heard it here first.

Skype is Great

Ever since i started working with a development team outside of the US, i’ve been using skype to communicate. Back in 2005 when Ebay bought Skype for $3 billion, i did not appreciate the power of the application. But now that i’ve become a regular user, let me just say – it is GREAT! Here’s why:

  1. Ease of use. Installing is a snap. Getting a microphone and device working is easy to do and easy to verify wiht the “test call”
  2. Voice-specific features. There are many IM clients that do voice chat, but Skype really packs the features in. For instance, you can do conference calls, you can mute, hold, add more users, all the things you’d want to do when talking to people. AIM doesn’t have any of these.
  3. Skype In & Skype Out. You can get a regular phone number and either make calls from your PC out to other users or receive calls in. These calls are only 2 cents a minute. Fantastic!

An interesting trend i’m seeing is that apps are adding regular IM chat capabilities to other applications that are popular. Gmail added chat into their mail program as users will logged into mail all day. Skype has IM built in as people keep their voice program running all day. It just makes senes. I can see a day where you have many, many options of how you can instantly send a note to someone you’re talking to or working with.

Gmail Chat Is Awesome


I think this flew under the radar for a few days for me before i fully appreciated how great a move this is for Google. I figure it will take about 6 months or 1 year before there’s an article in Time/Newsweek/Fortune about how great Google is for things like this (and maps, search, etc). First off, after search, Gmail is the only real application that i really like from Google.* It’s a great application – they really thought through how people use email and introduced some very nice features that i hadn’t seen on webmail services before, such as 1) threaded email messages – which appear that way in your inbox, 2) labels instead of folder – others still haven’t caught on to the subtle difference, 3) unlimited storage, 4) Unlimited session time – no need to sign in every 20 minutes.

The last point, which i always took for granted, is the key to their new Google Chat. I didn’t know the power until they started building for a me a buddy list on my left-hand side. Then i started receiving IM’s from them (Google IM’s, that is). Whoa!
I’ve been using AIM for a decade now and although other IM clients are far superior, i didn’t think i’d see anyone overtaking it because of the network effect. What i didn’t realize is that Google is doing the smart thing by leveraging the fact that there’s a huge user base logged into Google all the time. Why not convert GMail into an IM client? AIM is adding on email.

Think how many companies could have done this before? Outlook knows everyone’s email. It could have built a buddylist in the side and allowed you to IM (using MSN Messenger technology) anyone in your address book who is also using Outlook or using MSN. That would have been huge.

My prediction is that Google Chat/Talk will become the #2 IM Network in 2 years. AIM will hang on b/c it has all the youngsters already.

* Note: I have a bias against Maps because of my past relationship with Keyhole (which Google bought to make Google Maps).

AOL's State of the Union

Time Warner just announced their quarterly numbers. Although TW profits went up, AOL subscribers continue to drop down to 19 million. Just a few years ago they were over 35 million and now they’ve shed around 16 MILLION members. Why is this? Could it be that all the areas they were once dominant in they are now not even second tier? In this new world of social media and collective intelligence AOL is nowhere to be found. As a former employee (2000-2004) at both AOLTW Corporate and AOL Broadband i’ve seen some things. Here’s my take:

  • Social Networking & Blogging. Currently being dominated by MySpace, thefacebook, and others such as Friendster, yahoo 360, etc.. AOL plans to launch something with AIM soon (AIMspace), but i’d say they are about 3 years too late. Why would anyone switch from MySpace to AIM? Tied in closely with this is blogging. So many people, novices and professionals are looking for a place to put their thoughts, rants, and memories. So, while Google is buying Blogger and Yahoo is partnering with Moveable Type, AOL is sticking with their AOL Journals which is very limited in custimization, doesn’t have RSS, and can’t be hosted. I think they either need to get serious or get kill it.
  • Music Services. There are several viable music services out there. For the moment, let’s ignore the fact that everyone and their mother is using iTunes. What else is there? There are music subscription services such as Rhapsody, Yahoo Music, Napster, MusicNet, and eMusic (description of each below). AOL has rested on MusicNet for the past 4 years and last year bought up MusicNow for around $10 million. They had roughly 250k-300k MusicNet subs and i doubt they have anything close to that with MusicNow. At least with MusicNow they are building in community features (i think with MusicStrands), but does it tie into the AIM social network – doubtful. Does it tie in to AIM? Probably not. Is it featured on AOL anywhere? No, not really. When you’re this far behind, the best thing you can do is call in the community. This is what Yahoo’s done with the YME. They know they’re behind in terms of features and functionality, so they made a robust plug-in architecture so the rest of the world can help them catch up. This is why i think Yahoo will be the biggest player after Apple.
    • Rhapsody has been around the longest, is the most web-based and gotten in bed with MS. They have some interesting radio features but for the most part is somewhat klunky. It will be interesting to see what happens with this once MS gets their paws all over it. Supposedly, all MSN music will be powered by Rhapsody.
    • Yahoo Music (with Yahoo Music Unlimited) is slick. As i mentioned above, iIt has some great API’s and ties in well with Y! Messenger. The subscription service is cheap ($60 a year). Unfortunately it has very little subs, but that could change if the WMA issue gets better.
    • Napster is getting better and better, but still has relatively few social aspects. It has a good library and great branding but not much else.
    • eMusic is differentiated with an mp3 library. It’s not all-you-can-eat but it is ipod-compatible which makes a HUGE difference in this world 45 million iPods. They don’t have any mainstream artists but have almost all the indie artists.
    • MusicNet has the largest subscription library but it is simply a fulfillment engine. It powers services such as Virgin, Cdigix, and even Yahoo!. But there is no community here.
  • Advertising. This is when i realized that AOL will always be the JV squad in the internet game. Yahoo was serious about music and went out and bought MusicMatch for $500 million in 2003 and Launch Music (good article) for $12 million in 2001. AOL waited 4 more years then invested $10 million for a MusicNow library. Then advertising emerged as a viable and powerful revenue stream, Yahoo! spent 1.6 billion on Overture and AOL spent a few hundred million on – forever relegating them to minor league ball. Not that they’re doing incredibly poorly, but will they approach anything like Google’s Adsense? The old AOL would have bought whoever it needed to stay on top.
  • Mail. AOL’s golden nugget is the screenname. Users won’t switch because they don’t want to lose their email address and they pay $24 bucks a month for it. Meanwhile Gmail comes out with (basically) unlimited storage – for FREE. Then Yahoo and Hotmail counter with equal storage. Gmail and Yahoo continue to make their services better and better with slick javascript (gmail is the AJAX gold standard) and the new Yahoo Mail Beta is supposedly amazing. What is AOL doing? They make mail the most click-intensive application ever. You need 3 seperate windows to just send a message. And to make it even worse, your mail still expires after 28 days. Wtf? When will they wake up and realize that on a scale of 1-10, AOL is batting about a 3. Let’s break mail down even more:
    • Authentication. AOL requires you to sign on each time you come to it’s site. Sounds reasonable. However if you go to check your mail multiple times a day, it gets annoying. Neither Yahoo nor Gmail makes you do that. Even if you check “remember me” – it doesn’t.
    • Session Time. Gmail lets you stay signed in all day (and actually b/c of this launched a slick app – check out my future post). AOL signs you out after 15-20 minutes. Why are they making it such a pain to read your mail? Should services try to delight the customer?
    • Inbox. Time to bring in some AJAX. The interface is slow and ugly.
    • Integration with other services. No AIM, no real precense, no easy to access address, nothing.
  • Video. This is one space where AOL is doing ok. If you look at the types of video becoming available on the web from amateur (caught-on-tape) on one end to amateur narrative films (iFilm) in the middle to professional content on the other end. AOL is focussing directly on the far end of professional content only. They have deals with many major players to stream the video (NFL, CNN, E!, NBA, WB, etc.) however they make it hard to find the video or to use it anywhere outside of AOL. Their new hi-Q initiative using Kontiki is very interesting because it downloads and dramatically improves up the quality of the video, but the there isn’t much content available in Hi-Q yet – it’s currently only trailers and music videos. My question is where’s the focus on short video clips? There’s an explosion of content coming from short clips such as SNL’s Lazy Sunday that is being distributed through YouTube, Veoh, and now MySpace. This is where the eyeballs are. This is what users are passing around and looking for on the internet. However, AOL is focused on bring TV to the small internet screen. IP might be a delivery mechanism for that someday, but eventually it’ll be viewed on a big screen. I’m much more optimistic about Tivo/Netflix or MS Media Center applications. They have made some big investments in video search. But i don’t know any users to use video search. Basically there are only a few players that host a lot of video (YouTube, Google, and iTunes) and users go to them and search. If something isn’t there, they’ll check one of the others.
  • Instant Messaging. AOL just released Triton, a much needed upgrade over the AIM application that hadn’t been changed for over 4 years. It is still cluttered with Ads, doesn’t integrate blogs or music. Also, check this out: there’s an AOL address book, but now there’s also an AIM address book (powered by Plaxo). And, to make their AOL Mail even more insignificant, there’s now AIM mail which is the exact same thing, but for free. How could you not expect users to be confused when you can’t even integrate AIM with AOL? I’ve started using Yahoo Messenger lately and found it to be just as full featured but with less bugs and easier to use. Google Talk is simplier and easier to use too. Obviously all the users are on AIM so that’s going to be the dominant player for years to come, but it’s horrible how they’ve failed to extend the AIM platform – no API’s, no major improvements, and increasing more cluttered with shameful attempts to suck cash out of it (games, voice, ads, etc.)

This is a long synopsis of a large multi-faceted company but it pains me to see how each step of the way they continue to build creative and useful applications to benefit their members.